Trump: Refugees Still a Target

Terry H. Schwadron

Sept. 29, 2019

There were reminders this week that despite all the impeachment focus in Washington, Donald Trump and his campaign against immigrants remain the order of the land. Indeed, while lightning could strike and move Senate Republicans to actually consider information that could lead to the ouster of the president, chances are much more likely that we’ll have a wounded Trump survive a Senate impeachment trial.

All the more reason, therefore, to keep an eye on this continuing campaign against immigrants — both undocumented and legal immigrants.

Among the events of the last week:

The United States announced a deal with violence-torn Honduras to be able to return migrants trying to enter the United States back to Honduras, the place that crop failures, rising gang violence and poverty spawned the effort to leave in the first place.

— The Trump administration announced that it was cutting in half — again — the total number of asylum requests that would be approved in a year, to 18,000. This is a decision that comes as climate change, global conflicts, serious hunger, natural disasters all are prompting increased pressure on the United States to open its doors.

— A federal judge in Los Angeles blocked the Trump administration from activating new regulations that would have dramatically expanded its ability to detain migrant children with their parents for indefinite periods of time, dealing a blow to the president’s efforts to tamp down unauthorized border crossings.

In addition, the president has taken reporters on a sales-like hype of his border Wall prototypes, ignoring the fact that very little new Wall construction has occurred, leaders of immigration enforcement called before Congress have proved resistant to anything resembling criticism, and, as a nation, we continue to detain tens of thousands of migrants.

Honduras deal: The announcement of the migration deal gives U.S. immigration authorities the ability to send asylum seekers from the border to Honduras, one of the most violent and unstable nations in the world. U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials reached the deal with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, who is facing allegations of government corruption and charges that he and others have been operating the nation as a criminal enterprise as co-conspirators in a major U.S. drug trafficking case.

More than 25,000 Hondurans crossed the border in the last year, many filing asylum claims about fears of murder and poverty. As The Washington Post noted, the fact that DHS would enter into a deal with the Honduran government a month after its president was named by U.S. prosecutors as a co-conspirator in a drug case is a sign of the Trump administration’s eagerness to armor the U.S. immigration system against a new surge of Central Americans.

DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan has signed similar deals with El Salvador and Guatemala. None has been implemented, but once in place, U.S. officials say they will have the ability to redirect asylum applicants from the U.S. border to the same three countries that accounted for the vast majority of unlawful migration.U.S. officials argue that asylum seekers should try to find refuge “as close to home” as possible, rather than the United States, including any countries through which they must travel.

Immigration advocates have denounced the DHS agreements as a flagrant abrogation of long-standing U.S. legal protections extended to those fleeing persecution. Trump administration officials have acknowledged that their goal is to deter migrants from using U.S. humanitarian programs as a way to avoid detention and deportation at the border.

Cutting legal numbers: Trump slashed the American refugee program by almost half, greatly reducing the United States’ role in accepting persecuted refugees. The administration said it would accept 18,000 refugees during the next 12 months, down from the current limit of 30,000 and a fraction of the 110,000 that Barack Obama said should be allowed into the United States in 2016, his final year in office. Even that low figure may overstate the number of slots that could be open for unanticipated crises, since many of the openings have been allocated, including 4,000 refugee slots for Iraqis who worked with the United States military, 1,500 for people from Central America and 5,000 for people persecuted for their religion, senior administration officials said. The additional 7,500 slots are for those who are seeking family unification and have been cleared for resettlement.

As The New York Timesreported, the decision will eliminate many opportunities for people fleeing war and persecution throughout the world to resettle in the United States, which until Trump took office was the world’s leading destination for refugees.

At the same time, the United Nations General Assembly meetings last week highlighted the increasing need for worry about large global swaths of land turning hot, signaling a huge increase in global refugees. And, of course, we continue to support wars, and suffer natural diasters that are prompting increases in migration requests.

Denying Trump suspension of time limits: U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee issued a permanent injunction against allowing the Trump administration to suspend time limits for holding migrant children. She upheld the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, a consent decree that sets basic standards for detaining migrant children. The decree led to a 20-day limit for holding children in detention facilities that have not been licensed by the states for the purpose of caring for minors. Trump has called Flores a “loophole” that has enabled hundreds of thousands of families, many from impoverished Central American countries, to cross the southern boundary and claim asylum. Those migrants generally are quickly released into the United States because of the 20-day limit on detaining children.

Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services issued new rules in August that sought to terminate the settlement and lift the 20-day limit by allowing the federal government to license such facilities. But the judge wrote that regulations “fail to implement and are inconsistent with the relevant and substantive terms of the Flores Settlement Agreement” and therefore cannot take effect, noting that the agreement is a binding contract that was never appealed.

The impeachment doings are gathering most of the headlines these days, but the machinations of a Trump government bent on its anti-immigrant agenda continue unabated.


Journalist, musician, community volunteer